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Forbidden Archaeology : Antievolutionism Outside the Christian Arena

Wade Tarzia, Ph.D.

First published in Creation/Evolution 34:13-25, 1994 This version contains material that did not appear in the original publication

Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race . Michael A. Cremo and Richard L. Thompson. San Diego: Govardhan Hill, Inc. 1994. xxxvii + 914 Pages. Published by the Bhaktivedanta Institute, International Society for Krishna Consciousness.


Forbidden Archeology holds that anatomically modern humans have existed for millions of years, which disproves the theory of human evolution; the authors make no specific claims for other kinds of biotic evolution. The book also claims that archaeologists have become a "knowledge filter" (p. xxv ff.) since the 19th century, laboring under a predisposition to ignore evidence for anatomically modern humans having existed for millions of years. Sometimes the book develops a dishonesty theory -- evidence is said to be "carefully edited" (p. 150) by scientists so that younger investigators do not see evidence that invalidates the theory of human evolution.

To support their claims, the authors have worked hard in collecting and quoting an enormous amount of material, much of it from the 19th- and early 20th-century, certainly interesting for its historical perspective. Their evidence is as diverse as it is detailed, including, for example, eoliths (crudely broken stones some have considered early tools), "wildmen" (Big Foot, etc.), and even a fossilized shoe sole from the Triassic period.  

Despite all this hard work, I think the book falls short of a scientific work primarily (but not entirely) because (1) its arguments abandon the testing of simpler hypothesis before the more complex and sensationalistic ones, and (2) the use of so many outdated sources is inadequate for a book that seeks to overturn the well-established paradigm of human evolution -- scholars must not work in isolation, especially today, when multi-disciplinary approaches are needed to remain on the cutting edge of knowledge. However, for researchers studying the growth, folklore, and rhetoric of pseudo-science, the book is useful as ‘field’ data.

  I confine my review to some basic categories of flawed scientific argumentation. I show a couple of examples in each category but by no means have exhausted the pool. Throughout the book, examples of ‘loose’ science appear. I hesitate in judging the book to be utterly worthless from a scientific standpoint -- various specialists need to compare notes on the book -- but if worthy ideas exist in Forbidden Archaeology , they are hidden under a mass of undisciplined details, lack of critical contextual information, leaps of logic, and special pleading. The authors would have done better to devote their years of research to a smaller list of topics to allow themselves space to consider and test all of the implications of their hypotheses.  

I have chosen to review this book in an extended format -- a book-review/article -- because I think Forbidden Archaeology is so expansive that it forms good ground on which to explicate the style of pseudoscience writings, especially on the topic of archaeology. It is an exhaustive attack on the idea that humans have evolved. It is also a well-written example of pseudoscience -- its looks like the real thing, a phenomena discussed in Williams (1991, 15) -- and a quick review of the book is not advised. Indeed, to remain open to the possibility of new ideas we need to treat new entries into the field seriously. Serious treatment of new ideas, however much on the fringe they may be, is an appropriate venture in science. "The idea is not to attempt to settle such ideas definitely, but rather to illustrate the process of reasoned disputation, to show how scientists approach a problem that does not lend itself to crisp experimentation, or is unorthodox in its interdisciplinary nature, or otherwise evokes strong emotions" (Sagan 1979, 82).  

Mass of Details  

The mass of details with attached analyses would require book-length responses from specialized reviewers to confirm or critique. This style is a common diversionary tactic in pseudoscience. Since the authors have not aired their arguments previously through professional journals, as many scholars do before writing such a huge synthesis of material, the task of validation becomes a career itself. Such a style burdens an analysis with long leaps between broad assumptions (i.e., scientific cover-up) to the detailed evidence (i.e., minutiae of strata and dating from obscure sites) -- all on the same page.  

In the process of amassing details, the book seems to go to great lengths on minutiae, while more important data is passed over. Example: in a discussion of a purportedly incised bone (p. 38-40), discussion of the nature of the cuts and the context of the bone in the site are given short shrift while the discussion focuses on the fauna appearing in the stratum of the site. Evidence from an electron microscope study is not yet forthcoming; additionally, a reference central to the issue is a personal communication, and other evidence in the form of drawings or photographs is lacking. We are diverted from the primary issue of whether this is an artifact at all. (Note that the authors accuse others of using this same tactic [p. 377]). A discerning reader simply needs more than this to credit unusual claims for controversial artifacts. The problem with this particular case occurs in other cases.  

Use of Old Sources  

Quotations of the 19th-/early 20th- century material are copious -- comprising, I would guess, at least 25 percent of the book. A few examples: (1) a 1935 work of Weidenreich is cited as opposition to a 1985 work of Binford and Ho (p. 553); was there no current reference to refute Binford and Ho, and if not, what does this mean? (2) a question is raised about the geological time-scale, and the latest reference on the matter cited is a lecture given by Spieker in 1956 (p. 16); surely additional and more recent work is available on the topic of such importance as this; (3) a 1910 work of Osborn is used that mentions archaeological work done in 1863 and 1867, which seems desperately searching for supportive evidence in old reports; (4) experts are cited -- from ca. 1870 -- on the subject of shark teeth to suggest that these Pliocene fossils were drilled by humans (p. 49-51); this case is conspicuous in its avoidance of modern sources on shark biology and paleontology, sources that might better elucidate the work of tooth decay, parasites, and fossilization at work on shark teeth.

I do not indict the sincerity and ground-breaking of 19th century scholars. However, because knowledge seems to accumulate and research techniques seem to improve, assuming a blanket equivalency of research level between 19th and 20th century science is just going too far. Forbidden Archaeology does make such an argument, which I discuss next.

Assume Equivalency between Old and Recent Research

A foundation of the book’s arguments is that the research of the 19th- and early-20th-century scientists (esp. those presenting anomalous evidence for the antiquity of modern-type humans) should be considered equivalently factual relative to modern reports. (p. 22) The work further implies that modern scientists tend to accept one "set" of reports (modern ones) while rejecting another set (19th century ones); "it would be especially wrong to accept one set as proof of a given theory while suppressing the other set, and thus rendering it inaccessible to future students."

Well, maybe. But if the authors, who are not archaeologists, found these old reports, I hope archaeology students might do just as well. More to the point, we can argue whether scientists do reject early research -- which seems a rather simple statement covering a complex situation. Reliance on work of over a hundred years past is implicit in our accumulation of knowledge and refinement in understanding. But we are not belittling important groundbreaking when we do not a priori make direct use of the conclusions drawn in the good old days. Said another way: we should not make fools out of early doctors struggling with the few resources they had, nor should we rely on early medical texts or supply them to our doctors for consultation.

Rusting Occam’s Razor

A major flaw of Forbidden Archaeology is its quick leaps toward sensational hypotheses (see in general Williams 1991, 11-27). Sensational ideas are not intrinsically bad -- plate tectonics was pretty astonishing at one point (Williams 1991, 132), but also true. However, the cautious investigator hopes that less sensational, or simpler, hypotheses are first proposed and well tested before more complex or less likely explanations are considered.

This jumping over possible explanations is what Dincauze (1984, 294) calls avoidance of alternatives in archaeological argumentation. Dincauze fairly draws her cases from an array of archaeologists, some professional, others on the fringe (see also Williams 1991, 127 for an example of scientific fallibility). Her cases are drawn from the controversial claims for preClovis (pre 12,000 BP), Paleoindian occupation in the Americas, but her ideas perfectly suit this current review. Dincauze writes,

Critical tests must be applied to each and every claim for great antiquity so long as there remains no supporting context of ancient finds in which the claims can be readily accepted. ...We have at hand an unprecedented number of powerful analytic techniques. Because of the expanded base of theory, data, and method, we should be able to define related series of contrastive hypotheses around any question. Given multiple hypotheses, we can proceed to exclude or disprove all of but a few of them, leaving those that are not contradicted.


A typical example of this problem in Forbidden Archaeology is a discussion of a Miocene fossil bone purportedly incised with tools, which is supposed to indicate the existence of tool-making humans in the Miocene age (p. 67) -- an unusual idea. The authors call for further investigation into this possibility and in doing so skip over various alternatives to the ways a fossil could appear incised. For example, the bone’s markings, as depicted in the simple drawing, make me hypothesize that the bone was loaded lengthwise after the animal died, inducing tensile stresses along the side opposite the load, causing cracks around part of the bone’s circumference. Can this happen to a bone? I do not know, but I want to see simpler alternatives like this discussed, such as (1) the decay process that bone may undergo before fossilization (including the fracture mechanics of aging bone); (2) what can happen to a bone after it is fossilized. Some fossils have indeed suffered distortion during their tenure in the ground (for examples, see Day 1986, 80, 130, 204, 227, 350, 378, esp. a photograph of an ulna suffering both transverse and longitudinal cracks, 243), so the topic of distortion is topical and must be considered. Furthermore, such discussion must rely on modern sources of knowledge, not the 19th-century reports.

In another case, a Paleolithic-type tool is said to have been found in an extremely old deposit, allegedly supporting the possibility for tool-using humans much earlier than currently agreed (p. 90). This conclusion is a giant leap over an easier explanation; the site, Red Crag in England, is a river valley in which erosion could have exposed a Paleolithic tool and permitted its transport to the find spot in older gravels, since, over time, gravity ensures that materials wash down slope. Yet, this possibility is not raised in the discussion (despite the fact that the artifact was a surface find). However, the finder responded to an inquiry asking if any stone tools had been found in situ by inspecting "in and near the post holes dug for a fence." The finder was successful: "I found worked stones and thus recorded my first finds in situ " (p. 98). Apparently those were the great days of archaeology -- if you needed an artifact, then you simply went out to find one in any local hole being dug! Of course, the simpler hypothesis is not offered -- that an extremely charitable definition of ‘stone artifact’ might be at the root of such good luck.

Consider also Forbidden Archaeology ’s interpretation of the famous fossilized foot prints at Laetoli, Africa, dated to about 3.6 million years BP. Most scientists believe they are of early hominids. Since the footprints are surprisingly familiar, the authors feel they are direct evidence for 3.6-million-year-old modern humans (p. 742). Yet, one can more easily see the footprints as a main point of evolution theory -- if parts of an organism are well-adapted to certain uses, they need not change very quickly. Thus human feet may be relatively well-designed for walking and need not have changed rapidly over a few million years. So far this seems to be the simplest explanation. Forbidden Archaeology has not offered an alternative that falsifies this concept nor proposes a better one.

Reference to reports of living ape-people (or "wildmen") caps my list of giant leaps. Forbidden Archaeology uses this section to suggest the simultaneous existence of hominids with modern-type humans (cf. 622), which would supposedly disprove the notion of human evolution, ignoring the possibility of shared common ancestry. The authors seem very credulous of reports of wild-folk sightings. Here the easiest explanation, in the absence of a caged abominable snowperson, is that Yeti/Sasquatch/etc. are manifestations of folklore about anthropomorphic creatures, which is spread world-wide and goes back quite far; the human-eating monsters Grendel and his mother in the 1,000+ year-old epic Beowulf are an example (see Donaldson 1967). In fact, some of the reports cited in Forbidden Archaeology remind me of Beowulf when the theme of the report is an attack of an ape-man (examples on pp. 610, 611, 614, 618). In other ways the nature of some reports reminds me of contemporary legends, in which the actual witness of a strange event is removed from the informant by space and time; one informant said, "Many years ago in India, my late wife’s mother told me how her mother had actually seen what might have been one of these creatures at Mussorie, in the Himalayan foothills." (p. 607).

Discussing wildmen existing in folklore, the authors cite a reference that says, in part, that wolves appear in folktales because they are real; so if wildmen did not show up in folktales, then their reality could be doubted (p. 617). Well -- dragons, giants, and vampires show up in folklore; are we to believe they are real? But chipmunks seldom appear in folktales, so perhaps they are mythical? Asking simple questions such as these help us make a ‘reality check’ on arguments.

As a folklorist, I need to see the folklore hypothesis first discussed and soundly falsified before I consider that Yeti is real. And as a person interested in science, I also need to see a sound ecological defense of their lifestyle; as Williams says, "[T]here is a worldwide belief in humanlike monsters, often lurking in the unknown woods. ...we’ve got them everywhere we want them--but conveniently they don’t take up much space and eat very little" (Williams 1991, 17).

Missed Evidence

While presenting a voluminous amount of detail, sometimes Forbidden Archaeology has missed important points. For example, the book discusses the Timlin site in New York, where researchers reported finds of ancient eolithic tools dated to 70,000 YBP (p. 354). Yet Forbidden Archaeology does not mention the responses to these claims by several professionals, which casts the nature of these finds in doubt (Cole and Godfrey 1977; Cole, Funk, Godfrey, and Starna 1978; Funk 1977, Starna 1977; a reply to the criticisms is in Raemsch 1978). I found it interesting that a student created similar "eoliths" by rattling the same source material in a garbage can (Funk 1977, 543); the simple experiment has much to say about eoliths!

The authors have also missed Dincauze’s (1984) work, which has much to say about the flaws in theorizing about bones and artifacts from alleged early-human sites. The flaws in logic, artifactual context, and hypothesis testing (or lack of it) that she discusses are perfectly applicable to arguments on eoliths and alleged incised bones; more important, her discussions include some of the sites referred to in Forbidden Archaeology and the problems associated with them.

In addition, the book appears to miss the point that conclusions drawn from the paleoarchaeological record rely heavily on the context of evidence found from a variety of sites. When an artifact or fossil has a good context, it has been found among other evidence of cultural activity and has been dated by more than one method. The artifact might be found in concentrations of other artifacts at a butcher site comprising the bones of an animal. Such a context supports a claim that simple tools, comprising rather crudely chipped cores and flakes, were indeed tools. Similarly, the dating of the remains should rely not only on a chemical method but also on other contexts, such as datable fossil remains of other life (Dincauze [1984, 301-305] discusses these issues; see Mania and Vlcek 1981, 134 for an example in use: testing amino acid racemization, geological strata, and faunal analysis).

Problems of missing context plague eolith arguments. Thus, the authors state that crude eoliths are not accepted as tools whereas allegedly similar-looking artifacts (such as Olduwan and Acheulian industries) discovered by the professional archaeologists are accepted as artifacts (p. xxvii). But many Acheulian artifacts and quite a few Oldowan artifacts are quite distinctively styled -- impossible to confuse with randomly broken eoliths.

Furthermore, they think that Olduwan tools cannot be accepted as tools because they were not found near hominid fossils (p. 154). This chain of logic continues: if one rejects eoliths as tools, then one must also reject Olduwan tools of the same nature, which negates most of the tools from East Africa and Zhoukoutien in China (p. 188); or -- take your choice! -- in the absence of early hominid remains, Acheulian artifacts could be attributed to Homo sapiens (p. 410).

In some cases the authors may be correct -- early tool finds at Olduvai that have no supporting context may indeed be shaky evidence of tool making. Beyond this, however, Forbidden Archaeology builds a shaky correspondence between the alleged evidence of eoliths and the accepted early hominid and tool finds. First of all, archaeologists do not fail to question their data, a fact that Forbidden Archaeology conveniently fails to mention at strategic points. The most cursory library search introduced me to Walker (1981, 198-201), who notes that the dating, surface-find context, and sample sizes of hominid finds present currently unsolved problems (although, on the other hand, Walker emphasizes that surface finds, under certain defined conditions of context, can offer reasonable evidence [p. 200]). On the same stroll I found Rightmire (1984, 298) observing that Homo erectus probably made the early Acheulian tools, but the association of the tools with these hominids is not clear in the southern African sites.

However, these cases do not make sites with better contexts disappear. Rightmire (1984, 298, 300) mentions sites at which fossil hominids and tools are found in more solid contexts. Mania and Vlcek (1981, 133-151) also report a hominid site with associated hominid fossils, faunal remains, and tools. The Koobi Fora site is undoubtedly a butcher site replete with concentrations of stone tools; the only creature that could have made tools in that region is of an early hominid species (Leakey and Lewin 1978, 12). See Isaac (1984, 7-10) and Jones (19??) for further evidence. And most would disagree with the authors about Zhoukoutien; tool-using Homo erectus is most likely represented at this site near Beijing (Harrold 1990, 6).

Archaeologists would love to find an early hominid who choked to death on a classifiable bone of an extinct animal, with an Olduwan utensil in hand, covered over by a layer of hardened, datable volcanic ash preserving also the foot prints of disappointed family and friends leaving the body. This hasn’t happened. Yet, finds of tools in context with butcher sites or living sites, with hominid remains existing in the general region (near tools, in a few cases), are too strong to disavow in the absence of any other fossil remain of an intelligent creature that could produce tools and living floors. This evidence cannot be compared with eolithic evidence found out of context in the 19th century.

I close this section with one case where the authors do worse than miss evidence -- by ignoring their own objections. They feel the classic geological time-scale is deficient but they do not evaluate it because "in this study it would be impractical to delve into these matters in sufficient detail to demonstrate the specific defects that may exist in this geological and paleontological framework" (p. 23). The reader might as well stop reading on the second paragraph of page 23, since Forbidden Archaeology will continually refer to a time-scale that the authors believe is faulty.

Acceptance of Poor Evidence

My first example here concerns an alleged mortar (The Pierce Mortar, p. 376) found in 1862 in a mining tunnel in Table Mountain, California; the find spot was said to be in Tertiary gravels. The mortar, for which we have only a vague description, was of the same volcanic material (andesite) as the strata that is above its find spot in the mine (p. 376). Sinclair, a geologist, first criticized the claim and mentioned that mine tunnels in the mountain could have let the artifact enter. He also may have had another suspicion. The finder of the mortar, Pierce, also claimed to have found a carved tablet in the mine. Sinclair thought that the tablet had been recently etched with a steel blade (p. 377). Perhaps he was wary of a hoax by then. Surely the sensational happenings of the times would not have convinced him otherwise, because the period of these finds was a heyday in America for archaeological forgeries, especially tablets. Williams (1991) devotes his chapter on "Archaeology and Religion" to the subject, and Feder (1996) devotes his 3rd and 4th chapters to two particular archaeological hoaxes.

Cremo and Thompson use some interesting explanations to rescue the mortar and tablet. They state "who can say" that an andesitic boulder had not been in the ancient gravels in which the mortar was found (p. 377), even though, as I said, source material overlay the gravels of the find spot. Further, Sinclair supposedly criticized the tablet to distract from the issue of the mortar, a common tactic, say the authors, used by people who wish to discredit anomalous evidence (Ibid.). They say Sinclair gives no exact account of the features of the so-called recent carving by a steel blade (although Forbidden Archaeology gives no exact account of the nature of the mortar beyond approximate measurements quoted from Sinclair), so the carving might not have been made by a steel blade -- and if it was etched with steel, this is evidence of use of steel tools in the Tertiary period (Ibid.). Take your pick, you cannot go wrong!

So besides using poor evidence, Cremo and Thompson are selective in evaluating it. I wish the Triassic ‘shoe sole’ (p. 807) were held to the same standard of documentation, with its blurry photograph and no sign of the stitching, etc., proving it to be a shoe fossil. The authors criticize the Java Man and Zhoukoutien Cave finds even though the techniques and documentation of these finds -- even Dubois’s rather sloppy work -- cannot be compared to the unconvincing, sworn testimonials of Pierce.

Similarly, when the book documents a claim for a modern-type human skeleton (reported in a geology journal of 1862) in a coal deposit 90 feet deep, we learn the authors wrote the Geological Survey to date the coal to about 286 million years (p. 454). But we are not treated to a contextual discussion of the bones -- how they were found, who found them, what was the site like, and how these allegedly 286 million year old bones came out of the earth with only a loose black coating that was easily scraped away to reveal nice white bone, etc. The impression left is that, if a tabloid reported Jimmy Hoffa’s corpse was found in Triassic deposits, then the authors would no doubt perform rigorous research to date those deposits and then include the data in their next book. At any rate, such credulity as does exist in the book strains reader confidence.

The best example of reliance on poor evidence is an attempt to make negative evidence into support. The introduction to the wildman chapter tries to use lack of evidence for wildmen to support the existence of them. The argument begins by questioning how -- for example -- we can really trust that Johanson’s Ethiopian hominid finds were discovered as reported in the literature; also, how do we know that those same fossils are actually in the museum now? (p. 592) This line of argument leads to the plea that, if (for example) scientists believe Johanson’s words, his reports, and assurances that the actual fossils are in the museum, then scientists ought to believe in reports of ape-people, since these scientific data are no more trustworthy than reports of ape-people. Said simply -- ‘If you trust evidence from professionals, which we believe to be doubtful, then please trust our doubtful evidence.’

Too often, accepted evidence (mainstream theories) is called into question by claiming the scientists are dishonest. The idea is a venerable two-edged weapon, because if you accept this view of science and of dishonorable or clumsy scientists, then this book cannot be trusted, either. If the evidence of Johanson’s (or others’) excavations can be so easily lost, switched, lied about, then how much more could the 19th-century evidence be warped, the evidence on which this book relies so heavily? And how can we trust the authors, who attempt to use this evidently untrustworthy science-stuff?

Faulty View of Science Process

One of the most striking themes of Forbidden Archaeology is the notion that scientists are slaves to tradition, which slows down or stops the adoption of new ideas. Yet, scientists have often overturned paradigms in the face of a social tradition that penalized them for it. Galileo pushed his ‘wild’ views of a heliocentric solar system until threatened by state-officiated torture. Modern cosmology is another example, a branch of knowledge under such motion and revision that I suspect astronomers are giants among coffee drinkers. Similarly, paleoarchaeology is revised often in the face of new evidence (see Tuttle 1988 for a feel for the controversy). The "knowledge filter" would have to be impossibly acrobatic to span all this change.

Forbidden Archaeology says that 19th-century scientists are to be trusted, however: they were open-minded about the nature of the artifacts they found in early strata, while today’s scientists automatically explain away such finds (p. 90). The authors feel that the discovery of Java Man (one of the earliest pieces evidence for human evolution) was a turning point that made scientists so narrow-minded. After the Java find, scientists became predisposed to the theory of evolution. I am not sure how this process works. If scientists ignore truth to be predisposed to tradition, then this paradigm would have favored the idea of the extreme age of modern human types because it is more easily worked into Biblical tradition than is evolution. (Perhaps this is why the Cardiff Giant hoax [ see Feder 1996, chapter 3, and Williams 1991] worked so well on the public -- they were predisposed to believe in a fossil ‘giant’ because they were imbued in a Biblical tradition of antediluvian giants.) How could Java man change such a tradition by itself unless scientists eventually become disposed to consider new evidence? Dubois would have been given cement overshoes, otherwise! Scientists were indeed open-minded -- eventually the theory of evolution was adopted despite all the penalties of challenging an entrenched social tradition of Biblical history.

A more specific complaint centers on the exploitation of uncertainty in science. Some people may perceive (perhaps envy) that scientists feel confident in the truth they can deliver -- what else, from the people who enabled moon landings and Tylenol? Of course, abundant mysteries exist to continually remind scientists of their limitations. However, an anti-science approach tries to turn this natural uncertainty into proof that mainstream science cannot be expected to get it right. For instance, Forbidden Archaeology opens its case in the introduction by citing that the physical anthropologist Tuttle saw a mystery in the fact that ape-like australopithecines existed around the same time as the human-like footprints at Laetoli. The citation ends there, and we don’t know exactly what the mystery is that Tuttle sees (is it a mystery about two distinct species of hominid living simultaneously or how the curved big-toe of an ape-like creature could have left a modern-seeming footprint?). Let us be happy that Tuttle was mystified -- this is proof that the curious and honest scientist in him is alive and kicking; but the authors have made a mystery in science into a crack in scientific process. Mysteries are everywhere, and when they disappear, so does science, because science is only a method for understanding mysteries as reliably as possible.

It’s Anti-evolutionism, but Is It Creationism?

I think so, as the title of this article suggests. The authors state that they are followers of Vedic philosophy and aim to explain the history of the human race according to information preserved in Vedic texts and religion. They inform the reader that their religious affiliation should not matter if their ideas are solid (p. xxxvi), and I agree. Any person’s work should be regarded on its merits. In fact, many religious people have worked with good results in the fields of science and technology (Noble 1997). Religion and other cultural beliefs can bias an outlook, however, as the authors themselves would agree. Consider the paleontologist Wolcott, for instance, who seems to have missed the significance of the Burgess Shale fossils because of religious leanings, among other reasons (Gould 1989, ).

With this in mind, we can fairly ask if the authors are trying to force data into a mold shaped by Vedic religion. In his review of the book, Feder (1994) mentions that the authors admit their religious affiliations but do not state their theoretical outlook. He writes, "Like fundamentalist Christian creationists, they [Cremo and Thompson] avoid talking about the religious content of their perspective, so we can only guess at it." Feder tells us of the concept of the Vedic world cycle ( manvantara ) of 300,000,000 years in which the world with its humans is created and then destroyed in cycles. This concept is in keeping with Forbidden Archaeology ’s thesis of modern-type humans existing throughout antiquity. Feder says, "We all know what happens when we mix a literal interpretation of the Judeo-Christian myth with human paleontology; we get scientific creationism. It seems that we now know what happens when we mix a literal interpretation of the Hindu myth of creation with human paleontology; we get the anti-evolutionary Krishna creationism of Forbidden Archaeology , where human beings do not evolve and where the fossil evidence for anatomically modern humans dates as far back as the beginning of the current manvantara ." To be specific, their evidence here comprises a human skeleton (Illinois) and humanlike footprints (Kentucky) that the authors think are dated to around 300 million YBP (p. 816), as Feder points out. But they push their artifactual evidence back farther, to the Precambrian, where allegedly a grooved metallic sphere was found in South Africa and a metal vase in Massachusetts (p. 815).

I add that the Sanskrit epic, Ramayana , includes intelligent monkeys and bears who side with the Vedic gods against the demons. Has this narrative motif predisposed the authors to believe in modern-type humans living alongside intelligent animals (i.e., early hominids)? I can raise the hypothesis but know of no method for supporting it beyond the purely circumstantial evidence of the author’s stated religious affiliations, their broad theory of modern-human existence alongside hominids, and their belief in living apemen.


I have raised points that I think the authors ought to have addressed if they want to test seriously their hypotheses. I am disenchanted by these flaws in the basic steps of investigation, and I am not encouraged to credit the book’s more complex analyses in the more complex arenas that decades and dozens of trained paleoarchaeologists have built.

The authors have posited a vast knowledge filter and in many instances indicted the honesty and biases of scientists. A fairer judgment is that scientists are human and have human potentials for failings; in my mind, this means that knowledge is accumulated at a slower rate than in a perfect world, but accumulate it does. At the most cynical point, I could posit that untruthful biases are uncovered because scientists eventually criticize loose thinking if only to further their careers. At their best, scientists -- indeed, all scholars and artists -- love truth and are driven to know how the world is made. Multiply these drives by the number of scholars living, and it all adds up to a normally self-corrective tradition (cp. Sagan 1979, 82) that Cremo and Thompson reject with little basis.

Scientists have developed a rhetoric to report and, perhaps, to think about their studies as objectively as possible; however, this rhetoric can be used to further personal agendas even when the science is solid (see for example Halloran 1984, 79) -- again, the human and the scientist are inseparable. But instead of using Forbidden Archaeology , with its poorly supported claims, people interested in the problems associated with scientific reporting would do well to begin with professional work on the subject (for example, Coletta 1992, Fahnstock 1986, Gross 1990, Halloran 1984, Prelli 1989, Weimer 1977). Discussions of the history and nature of pseudoscience are available in Cole 1980, Feder 1990, Harrold and Eve 1987, Williams 1991. Many of their characterizations will be recognized in Forbidden Archaeology . To these discussions, I suggest that Cremo and Thompson have succumbed to a logical fallacy that can plague both professional/amateur mainstream and marginal archaeologists. Dincauze (1984, 292) writes about the trap of possibilist arguments.

The possibilist fallacy "consists in an attempt to demonstrate that a factual statement is true or false by establishing the possibility of its truth or falsity" (Fischer 1970:53). ... The danger comes when possibilities are confused with demonstration, when "it could be" is followed by an unearned "therefore, it is." One cannot falsify possibilities, and most skeptics wisely eschew the effort. From the skeptics’ refusal to engage, proponents charge either tacit agreement or refusal to face evidence. ... The only appropriate engaged response to a possibilist argument is a request for evidence, rather than assertion.

Dincauze reminds us that investigation must begin with possibilist ideals, with the following caution: "Possibilist arguments are only the first step toward knowledge; they indicate a problem domain where the method of multiple hypotheses might be applied" (1984, 310).

Possibilist ideals inherent in part of the scientific approach are, perhaps, one reason why some people seem to be excited about Forbidden Archaeology . The publisher included a notice of ‘advanced praise’ along with the review copy. Some selections: Dr. Virginia Steen-Macintyre, a geologist, is quoted as saying, "What an eye opener! I didn’t realize how many sites and how much data are out there that don’t fit modern concepts of human evolution... [publisher’s ellipsis] I predict the book will become an underground classic." Fortean Times has said, "Cremo and Thompson have launched a startling attack on our whole picture of human origins and the way we have arrived at that picture: not only is the evidence impugned, but also the scientific method of handling it." Dr. Mikael Rothstein of the Politiken Newspaper, Denmark, remarks, " Hidden History is a detective novel as much as a scholarly tour de force . But the murderer is not the butler. Neither is the victim a rich old man with many heirs. The victim is Man himself, and the role of the assassin is played by numerous scientists." On the other hand, Richard Leakey replied to their request for a book blurb with: "Your book is pure humbug and does not deserve to be taken seriously by anyone but a fool." In parentheses the publisher adds here: "Representative of the scientific establishment’s viewpoint." Perhaps -- but we do not know that yet.

This book, and other creationist texts that use similar techniques, is most useful as ethnographic data in studies of comparative religion, cult movements, popular movements, anti-science, fantastic archaeology, rhetoric, folklore -- the book can be studied in any of these fields. With its emphasis on "secrets" and "hidden history" and "cover-up," the book participates in the popular genre of the conspiracy, akin to popular beliefs about the Kennedy assassination and crashed alien spaceships kept in guarded Air Force hangars (see Williams [1991, 153] about such a charge made in the Atlantis topic). Sometimes the motifs of these modern legends are mixed with traditional motifs, as in the example of UFOs combined with traditional Irish fairy lore (Smith 1980, 402), and a "scientific" explanation of why mermaids do not appear in Lake Michigan (Degh and Vazsonyi 1976, 109, 112-113). These instances mark the relatively recent transition from agrarian to technological society, showing a need to react against mainstream science -- or at least to dilute it -- by adopting, re-inventing, or continuing traditional beliefs in the supernatural. The need for people to fantasize about such things is genuine; the behavior forms an aspect of Western, industrialized culture (perhaps an aspect diagnostic of our particular pressures) well worth interdisciplinary study.

This folklore connection is suggested in the book’s constant looking-backward toward a ‘golden age’ of open-minded scholars, which reminds me of the function of myth, in which the past is formed in a mythological story tradition to legitimize the present. I am also reminded of the romance genre of literature: "Romance is the mythos of literature concerned primarily with an idealized world in which subtlety and complexity of characterization are not much favored and narrative interest tends to center on a search for some kind of golden age" (after Lee 1972, 227). Much of Forbidden Archaeology does read like a romance.

In any event, I have no evidence that people were or were not much more open-minded or golden a hundred years ago; but in the present I see Forbidden Archaeology fantasizing about a past open-mindedness to legitimize a vast restructuring of our present understanding -- without good evidence.

References Cited

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Cole, John R., and Laurie R. Godfrey. (1977). "On ‘Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North America’." Current Anthropology 18/3: 541-543.

Cole, John R., Robert E. Funk, Laurie R. Godfrey, and William Starna. (1978). "On Criticisms of ‘Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North America’: Rejoinder." Current Anthropology 19/3: 665-669.

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--- (1999). Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries: Science and Pseudoscience in Archaeology . 3rd edition. Mountainview, CA: Mayfield.

Fischer, D.H. (1970). Historians’ Fallacies . NY: Harper and Row.

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Starna, William A. (1977). "On ‘Some Paleolithic Tools from Northeast North America’." Current Anthropology 18/3: 545-546.

Walker, Alan. (1981). "The Koobi Fora hominids and their bearing on the genus Homo ." Homo erectus : Papers in Honor of Davidson Black . Eds. B. Sigmon and J. Cybulski. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 193-216.

Warren, S.H. (1905). "On the Origin of ‘Eolithic’ Flints by Natural Causes, Especially in the Foundering of Drifts." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 35:337-364.

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Williams, Stephen (1991). Fantastic Archaeology: The Wild Side of North American Prehistory. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Copyright © 1998 Wade Tarzia. All rights reserved.

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