Calaveras Skull

The Calaveras Skull, from William Henry Holmes' preliminary

The calaveras skull was a human skull found by miners in Calaveras County, California, which was purported to prove that humans, mastodons, and elephants had coexisted in California. It is speculated that that the Smithsonian either has the original OOPArt skull in its archive, or it was designated to be destroyed.

Whitney reportEdit

On February 25, 1866, miners claimed to have found a human skull in a mine, beneath a layer of lava, 130 feet (40 m) below the surface of the earth, which made it into the hands of Josiah Whitney, then the State Geologist of California as well as a Professor of Geology at Harvard University. A year before the skull came to his attention, Whitney published the belief that humans, mastodons, and elephants coexisted;[1] the skull served as proof of his convictions. After careful study, he officially announced its discovery at a meeting of the California Academy of Sciences on July 16, 1866, declaring it evidence of the existence of Pliocene age man in North America, which would make it the oldest known record of humans on the continent.[2]

Smithsonian coverupEdit

The authenticity of the calaveras skull was immediately challenged. In 1869 a San Francisco newspaper reported that a miner had told a minister that the skull was planted as a practical joke.[3]

Anthropologist William Henry Holmes of the Smithsonian Institution investigated around the turn of the century. He determined that the plant and animal fossils that had been discovered near the skull were indeed genuine, but challenged that the skull was too modern, and concluded that "to suppose that man could have remained unchanged... for a million years, roughly speaking... is to suppose a miracle."[3]

Thomas Wilson of Harvard ran a fluorine analysis on it in 1879 (the first ever usage of such on human bone), with the results indicating it was of recent origin.[4] After careful comparison of the skull with descriptions of it at the time of its discovery, it was revealed that the skull Josiah Whitney had in his possession, was not the one originally found.[2]

See alsoEdit


  1. Whitney, J. D. (1865). Geology - Report of progress and synopsis of the field-work from 1860 to 1864. Philadelphia. p. 252.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "The Calaveras Skull". Museum of Hoaxes. Archived from the original on 2011-06-29.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "The Notorious Calaveras Skull". Archaeology Magazine. Archaeological Institute of America. 2009. Retrieved 2011-02-23.
  4. 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.

External linksEdit

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