The Calaveras Skull was a human skull found by miners inCalaveras County, California which was purported to provethat humans, mastodons, and elephants had coexisted inCalifornia. It was later revealed to be a hoax. Coincidentally,“calaveras” is the Spanish word for “skulls”.
On February 25, 1866, miners found a human skull in a mine,beneath a layer of lava, 130 feet (40 m) below the surface ofthe earth, which made it into the hands of Josiah Whitney,then the State Geologist of California as well as a Professorof Geology at Harvard University. A year before the skullcame to his attention, Whitney had published theaforementioned belief of humans, mastodons, and elephantshaving coexisted and the skull only served as proof of hisconvictions. After careful study, he officially announced itsdiscovery at a meeting of the California Academy of Sciences on July 16, 1866, declaring it evidence of theexistence of Pliocene age man in North America, which wouldmake it the oldest known record of humans on the continent.
However, its authenticity was immediately challenged. In 1869 a San Francisco newspaper reportedthat a miner had told a minister that the skull was planted as a practical joke. Thomas Wilson ofHarvard ran a fluorine analysis on it in 1879 (the first ever usage of such on human bone), with theresults indicating it was of recent origin. It was so widely believed to be a hoax that Bret Hartefamously wrote a satirical poem called “To the Pliocene Skull” in 1899.
Nevertheless, Whitney did not waver in his belief that it was genuine. His successor at Harvard, F. W.Putnam, also believed it to be real. By 1901 Putnam was determined to discover the truth and heheaded to California. While there, he heard a story that in 1865 one of a number of Indian skulls hadbeen dug up from a nearby burial site and planted in the mine specifically for miners to find. However,Putnam still declined to declare the skull a fake, instead conceding, “It may be impossible ever todetermine to the satisfaction of the archaeologist the place where the skull was actually found.”Others, such as adherents of Theosophy, also were unwavering in their belief in the authenticity of theskull.
To further complicate the issue, careful comparison of the skull with descriptions of it at the time of itsdiscovery revealed that the skull Whitney had in his possession was not the one originally found.
Anthropologist William Henry Holmes of the Smithsonian Institution investigated around the turn ofthe century. He determined that the plant and animal fossils that had been discovered near the skullwere indeed genuine, but the skull was too modern, and concluded that “to suppose that man couldhave remained unchanged… for a million years, roughly speaking… is to suppose a miracle.”Likewise, J. M. Boutwell, investigating in 1911, was told by one of the participants in the discovery thatthe whole thing was indeed a hoax. The miners of the Sierra Nevada apparently did not care muchfor Whitney (“being an Easterner of very reserved demeanor”) and were “delighted” to have playedsuch a joke on him. Furthermore, John C. Scribner, a local shopkeeper, claimed to have planted it,and the story was revealed by his sister after his death. Radiocarbon dating in 1992 establishedthe age of the skull at about 1,000 years, placing it in the late Holocene age.
Despite evidence to the contrary, the Calaveras Skull continues to be cited by creationists as proofthat paleontologists ignore evidence that does not fit their theories, although others haveacknowledged that the Calaveras Skull is a hoax.
- “The Calaveras Skull”. Museum of Hoaxes. Archived from the original on 2011-06-29. Retrieved 2009-07-06.
- “The Notorious Calaveras Skull”. Archaeology Magazine. Archaeological Institute ofAmerica. 2009. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
- Ian Haywood (1987). “The Missing Link”. Faking it: Art and the Politics of Forgery. Harvester.p. 95. ISBN 978-0-7108-1043-4. Retrieved 24 February 2011. (as cited in Blinderman, Charles;Joyce, David. “The Piltdown Plot”. Clark University. Retrieved 2011-02-23.)
- Conrad, Ernest C. (Spring 1982). “Are There Human Fossils in the “Wrong Place” for Evolution?”. Creation/Evolution Journal 3 (2). Retrieved 2009-07-06.
- Heinrich, Paul (June 3, 1996). “The Calaveras Skull Revisited”. Talk.Origins. Retrieved 2009-07-06.
- Weber, Christopher Gregory (Fall 1981). “Paluxy Man — The Creationist Piltdown”. Creation/Evolution Journal 2 (4). Retrieved 2009-07-06.
- Taylor, R. E.; Payen, Louis A. and Slota, Peter J., Jr (April 1992). “The Age of the CalaverasSkull: Dating the “Piltdown Man” of the New World.”. American Antiquity 57 (2): 269–275.JSTOR 280732.
- “In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood”. Center for ScientificCreation. Retrieved 2009-07-06.
- Taylor, Ian T. “From Mammal to Man”. In the Minds of Men (5th ed.). ISBN 0-9733368-0-3.Retrieved 2011-02-24.
- “Arguments we think creationists should NOT use”. Creation Ministries International.Archived from the original on 2008-01-21.
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